In her fourth collection of poetry, Carol V. Davis focuses on her fascination with Russia — a country she loves and in which she has lived for extended periods of time. Her last stint was in 2018, when she resided in Siberia and taught at Buryatia State University in Ulan-Ude.
Davis’s poems about Siberia are often about the weather, which she describes with precision and wonder. It becomes a metaphor for the extremes we endure to test our own limits. In the poem “Below Zero, the Temperature Falling,” the poet writes about the struggle to survive in such a frigid climate:
Starting two days ago, I was warned of the approaching cold:
-25°C today, tomorrow ‑31°C, ‑40°C Saturday.
I cannot imagine such temperatures, how others live here,
go about their days working, walking to the store.
Davis also writes beautifully about the bonds she makes with her colleagues and other people she meets. She clearly wants to understand what makes them tick — their politics, work, relationships, beliefs, and superstitions. In the poem “In Siberia, I Watch My Host,” the poet gazes at his host as he pours himself a glass of beer, dips a finger into it, and taps it on the table top. She then learns he does it for the house spirits, to either appease or nourish them.
A descendant of Jews who fled the pogroms of Russia, Davis weaves many Jewish themes into her poems. In “Licorice Fern,” she writes about counting as a way to grab hold of the fleeting natural universe, at which point her thoughts take a leap:
… Counting is habit forming, such certainty like the counting
of days of the Omer, the preparation and anticipation
of freedom: seven weeks, forty-nine days between the redemption
from slavery and receiving of the Torah. There is too much
to remember: why must we be responsible for all the ills?
More than anything, this is a collection about traveling — traveling as a way to learn about one’s background, to appreciate the place we call home, and traveling as a path toward revelation, not unlike the act of writing itself. In “Driving on Hwy. 31,” the poet comes across an abandoned church in a small town and wonders, “Can a person ever find salvation?”
For Davis, salvation lies in the process of discovery — of wandering and wondering about her life and the lives of the people around her. In doing so, she discovers the pains and joys of being human.
Stewart Florsheim’s poetry has been widely published in magazines and anthologies. He was the editor of Ghosts of the Holocaust, an anthology of poetry by children of Holocaust survivors (Wayne State University Press, 1989). He wrote the poetry chapbook, The Girl Eating Oysters (2River, 2004). In 2005, Stewart won the Blue Light Book Award for The Short Fall From Grace (Blue Light Press, 2006). His collection, A Split Second of Light, was published by Blue Light Press in 2011 and received an Honorable Mention in the San Francisco Book Festival, honoring the best books published in the Spring of 2011. Stewart’s new collection, Amusing the Angels, won the Blue Light Book Award in 2022.